Ok, so the state of B2B marketing probably isn’t the hottest topic in the world right now. Brexit, China and ‘the Trump factor’ seem to be setting the somewhat challenging tone that business and the world in general faces right now.

However, time will ultimately resolve these issues and we’ll see increased stability and a ‘new normal’ – albeit potentially more challenging than it has been for the last 5-6 years. But when that dust finally settles on these bigger issues where does that leave B2B marketing?

Right now, I have to tell you I don’t think it’s going to be in quite the place we dreamt it would be when Sirius Decisions, Oracle, Google and the like all pointed us in the direction of the ‘perfect marketing future’ that digital promised.

For many clients, and indeed agencies, the promise is not quite what they had in mind. Of course, there are examples of businesses that have seen exponential increases in enquiries from digital channels, there are many sales teams who are now inundated with MQLs (let’s not discuss the precise definition of MQL/SAL right now…) and there are many examples of truly effective digital marketing that has delivered business value or indeed looks as if it might do so in the near future.

The truth however for many B2B businesses is increased cost, increased complexity, increased dissatisfaction from Sales teams and certainly some disappointment from the C-Level who were promised the perfect marketing future from digital. The simple fact is that fully connected, customer centric, always-on, data-driven marketing is bloody hard. Really bloody hard.

Why? Because the digital marketing promise, in theory at least, means we can communicate in real-time, based on customer interactions, across hundreds of channels in a personalised way – ensuring complete understanding and therefore all-encompassing engagement of every single one of our customers, on their own terms. The number of perfectly coordinated connections required to meet that promise is far out of reach of most b2b businesses and agencies. And here’s why….

1. Complexity leads to paralysis

The inherent complexity of multi-touch marketing, the increasingly complex technology layer and indeed the increasing centralization of the function is resulting in extended timeframes for getting messages out in the market. The increasing use of the ‘Minimum Viable Product’ philosophy goes some way to redress the balance, but overall getting messages and content to customers or prospects is harder and more time consuming than it should be. The way that many enterprise B2B marketing functions are structured also adds to the problem. With functions split across many people and indeed dis-jointed marketing teams, the simple process of getting a simple digital communication created and then activated can involve dozens of people. In a real-time, customer centric world this is just not cool. And certainly not effective.

2. Marketers were bred to complete tasks

If you’ve been in marketing for more than ten years, client or agency, then the chances are you were trained to produce ‘things’. Be it a set of ads, a brochure, an event or an email, your job was done when the output was complete. And then on to the next thing on your enormous list. This just doesn’t cut it anymore. And culturally it’s one of the hardest things the industry needs to change. Forget what you create, don’t be judged by the amount you output. Instead focus entirely on outcomes. Right now, in a world that has one foot in traditional and one foot in the modern world that’s tough. Because if your marketing is not fully connected, measurable end-to-end then all your hard work focusing on outcomes can look very little. So, what happens then? You revert to type and get comfort producing loads more stuff. This is probably the biggest risk right now to the marketing industry. ‘We can’t connect and measure the new stuff quite yet, so we’re going to keep doing the old stuff’. The stuff we know doesn’t work…?

3. The whole is much, much more than the sum of the parts

Best in class or best in breed is great, but is it great enough? Well probably not. When your success depends on how well you connect your marketing to achieve the utopia mentioned earlier, suddenly how it fits together takes on more importance than any specific part of the complicated ecosystem we are marketing within. No longer is it the one ‘big thing’ that makes the winning difference. It’s now equally important, if not more so, to make sure the dozens of connections in the ecosystem are all seamlessly working together to allow that one big idea to actually land on its targets.

So how do the subtle variations of ad creatives in a multitude of platforms targeting different personas connect to personalized landing pages with various performance testing strategies running alongside. And how does that connect with the user experience that ensures not only excellent acquisition above the funnel, but a perfect UX that sees an increase in conversion and performance improvements through the funnel. And, ‘yes please, I’d like that reported in real-time on one dashboard’ says the CMO…

Now that’s a big change in marketing approach – especially amongst those Prima donna agency types who thinks their one idea solves your problem. Fact is. It doesn’t. More likely however is that the fifty other parts of the process delivered by mere mortals across the client and agency combined, aggregate to make the big, measurable, commercial differences.

So, in summary there’s some great work being done in clients and agencies alike. It just needs to mature, rapidly. Team culture needs to evolve. The focus needs to change. Connections are all important, outcomes should be the priority of every marketer and complexity must not be allowed to get in the way of action. Otherwise the digital marketing dream will be just that…

To benchmark your organisation’s digital marketing maturity, visit our Demand Centre Maturity Index.